The French Period

During its 95 years under French rule, Mauritius experienced major changes. Today, the French influence is still a huge part of the country, especially in its language and infrastructure.

In 1705, the Dutch abandoned Mauritius, and five years later the French arrived on its shores. They claimed the island and named it “Île de France,” meaning “Island of France.” Six years later, they started building their settlement in the north-west part of the island.

Over the next fourteen years, a steady stream of ships arrived on Île de France. They carried settlers, Catholic priests, and hundreds of slaves from Mozambique, Madagascar, and the west coast of Africa.

Unlike the Dutch, the French were able to create a successful settlement on Mauritius thanks to a French naval officer named Bertrand-Francois Mahé de La Bourdonnais. (What a mouthful!) La Bourdonnais arrived on the island in 1735, where he was to serve as Governor. He began establishing Port Louis as the island’s main city by building permanent stone structures, paving roads, and even opening a hospital. His influence on the island still be seen today; the city of Mahébourg in Mauritius is named in his honor.

Port Louis quickly became an important stop in the Indian Ocean for tradesmen. As the city grew so did the Mauritian agricultural economy. The French began to increase the number of slaves brought to the island to work the sugarcane and tea fields, thus beginning plantation slavery in Mauritius.

Around the same time, slavery on American plantations was becoming common in the southern United States. However, in America, cotton and tobacco plantations were more common than sugarcane and tea.

Although France abolished slavery in 1794 for its colonies, it continued on Mauritius until 1835. The British captured Île de France in 1810, and officially put an end to slavery 25 years later.